The “Global Environmental Change and Human Security Project” (GECHS) was a ten-year key project of the International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP). It aimed at examining the theoretical and conceptual developments of the links between environmental change, impoverishment, and insecurity. Doing so, it is probably one of the most authoritative sources to complement information offered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Thanks to Linda Sygna, Karen O'Brien and Johanna Wolf, one important compilation of the GECHS results is now available: “A Changing Environment for Human Security. New Agendas for Research, Policy and Action”. It provides useful insights on state and prospects of transformational change to address global environmental changes. Based on the 38 chapters of the volume, it seems more than fair to say that both state and prospects are rather limited. Either current climate policy approaches lack the relevance of providing some of the breakthrough conditions structuring the analytical perspective of the publication or they are too much in line with already well-established paradigms such as informing development or poverty eradication policies. According to the editors, challenging such prevailing paradigms, enabling empowerment, and integrating knowledge and action are key to strengthen human security.
The case of reducing deforestation through establishing Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) schemes has already drawn criticism from many sides for ignoring the well-being of poor people and their land tenure rights. Although we can argue that there might be other, more sustainable cases to address the problem of deforestation, the missing link between the areas of individuals at the local level and state-centric top-down policy making seem to be an on-going phenomenon that may help to explain some of the deficits of inducing transformative changes. This becomes even clearer with the examples of empowerment discussed in the book: without due recognition of the importance of solidarity, human security approaches to empower one group risk to trigger human insecurity of other individuals or groups. One positive example in this regard is the reform of water management practices at the local level in Bolivia where national reforms contributed to the reshaping of social relations through the inclusion of indigenous villagers. A closer focus on the local level is also asked for by another case study dealing with the potential of cities to be a key actor to foster sustainability. Hardly a key perspective of the international climate policy arena, the introduction of policies at the city level requires “a new science of urbanization” according to the authors.
By discussing next steps of bridging the gap between theories and practices of human security, the volume - and the GECHS project in general – is a valuable contribution to inform policy makers and practitioners alike.